The thyroid is a small butterfly shaped organ that sits at the base of the neck. The thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones that are involved in critical functions such as regulating heart rate, breathing, metabolism, blood pressure, the menstrual cycle, body temperature and a lot more. If your thyroid is not functioning properly it will have a knock on effect elsewhere in the body. Disorders of the thyroid occur when there is too little thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) or when there is too much thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism).
Hypothyroidism - This is when there is a deficiency in thyroid hormone and it gives rise to distinct symptoms including; A slow metabolism that can lead to weight gain, fatigue, cold intolerance, depression, constipation, dry skin, hair loss, joint pain and stiffness, menstrual irregularities, and infertility.
Hyperthyroidism - Is when there is too much thyroid hormones and it gives rise to specific symptoms including; weight loss, palpitations, anxiety, eye protrusion, tremors, irritability, menstrual disturbances, fatigues, heat intolerance and increased appetite.
Today we'll be focusing on hypothyroidism..
Hashimoto’s is an auto-immune thyroid condition where the immune system now recognises the thyroid cells as foreign and develops antibodies to attack these cells. Hashimoto’s accounts for approximately 90% of hypothyroidism cases in Western countries. This disease is genetic in a lot of cases and if your parents had it, you are more likely to suffer from it.
Risk factors for hypothyroidism include genetics, stress, age and gender. Thyroid conditions are typically found in people under the age of 40 and occur more frequently in women than men.
If you have any of these symptoms it’s important to visit a doctor to diagnose an underlying thyroid condition and get treated for it.
Gluten and Thyroid Disease
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Those with Coeliac disease must completely avoid gluten as it triggers an autoimmune attack on the intestinal walls, destroying the villi which are required for digestion and absorption of food. Coeliac disease can occur in those with autoimmune thyroid disease. It is thought that between 1.2-15% of those with thyroid disease have also got Coeliac disease.
Interestingly the removal of gluten for a period of 1 year or more in patients with thyroid disease and Coeliac disease improved thyroid function, intestinal symptoms and reduced thyroid antibodies in an Italian study. Removing gluten may improve intestinal absorption of important nutrients for thyroid function such as selenium.
The removal of gluten will not work for everyone and it should be done under the care of a nutritionist or dietitian. There are many other factors that could be give rise to an intolerance to wheat products, including fructans, or there may be imbalances in the gut microbiota (dysbiosis). If you are diagnosed with a thyroid condition it is important to get tested for Coeliac disease also.
The Best Diet For Hypothyroidism
There is no specific diet for thyroid disease, but the focus should be to eat whole foods that support your body to heal and repair. Build a diet around wholegrains, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables.
Oily fish, olive oil, coconut oil, grass fed butter, nuts, seeds and avocados are high in healthy fats that help reduce inflammation. It’s best to get nutrients from food when possible as there is more than just one single nutrient in a food. For example oily fish like salmon are a good source of omega 3s, but also contains protein, B vitamins and the thyroid supporting mineral selenium.
Protein is another key macronutrient required to manufacture thyroid hormones. Protein is also required to keep blood sugars stable and reduce stress hormones such as cortisol. Imbalances in blood sugar over time can lead to over stimulation of cortisol, however it reaches an exhaustive state and cortisol levels fall. We need a healthy balance of cortisol to convert thyroid hormone to its active form in the liver. Eating balanced meals with protein, fats and complex carbohydrates can keep blood sugars stable and can help support thyroid health.
Iodine is absorbed by the thyroid and it’s converted into thyroid hormones T4 and T3. Diets low in iodine are at risk for hypothyroidism. Foods high in iodine include salmon, sardines, seafood, sea vegetables (seaweed), eggs, dairy products, iodised salt.
Low iron may affect the conversion and production of thyroid hormones. Females with heavy menstrual cycles and that have hypothyroid disease may be at a greater risk for low iron levels. Meat, poultry fish, green leafy veg, some nuts and seeds, legumes, whole grains, apricots and fortified cereals provide dietary sources of iron.
Other micronutrients such as zinc and selenium reduce oxidative stress and free radicals which are present in thyroid disease. Zinc is found in oysters, meat and nuts and selenium is particularly high in brazil nuts and is also found in meat and fish.
Overall a nutrient dense diet can help support the normal function of the thyroid gland